Avian flu ruffles feather & down supplies

Michele SanFilippo, February 9, 2004

U.S. suppliers of feather and down said it is still too early to assess the impact of avian flu on the main duck and goose populations of Southeast Asia.

Price increases will continue and product shortfalls could result from a potentially decreased supply of waterfowl, combined with the fact that China temporarily stopped exporting these products.

The U.S. government last week banned the importation of birds and bird products from eight Southeast Asia nations, including China.

However, finished product containing feathers will be allowed into the country so long as the feathers have been sterilized and certified.

For several days prior to the ban, the Chinese government had already ordered 10 provinces to stop exporting washed-down products and finished goods. By the end of the week, it had been lifted.

"I think the fears that everyone had about there being a total blockade of products coming into the U.S. have been calmed by this news," said Wilford Lieber, president of the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory and Institute in Salt Lake City. "Most of the bulk feather and down that comes into the country is already pre-washed and sterilized, so we are talking about a very small amount of raw material that is temporarily being banned," he said.

However, some suppliers anticipate they will have to adjust their product mix.

Joe Crawford, senior vice president of finance and purchasing at Pacific Coast Feather, said, "The big issue is the obvious net decrease in the supply of feather and down and delays in the availability of the goods, because enormous amounts of ducks and geese are being destroyed."

Crawford confirmed that prices increased about 30 percent over the past week. "It's possible that the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better," he said.

John Facatselis, CEO of Phoenix Down, added, "Basically, the U.S. has allowed the importation of washed and finished goods to come in now. China has closed down the exportation of all feather and down products for a week so far, which seems to have caused a panic, but this is being done as a precautionary measure."

He predicted China has the capacity to process raw material for companies in the United States.

"What will probably happen is that raw materials get washed in China and then rewashed here to return their fill power, as they will be coming in compressed, which will incur additional costs," said Leo Hollander, president of the American Down Association.

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